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The Fundamentals of Laboratory Design


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Laboratories are the birthplace of ideas. These learning centers boast some of the greatest experiments and inventions in history. Laboratories house a plethora of materials from hazardous chemicals to living organisms. Equipment of all kinds can also be found in labs—from centrifuges to humidity test chambers.

Because of the impact and importance of laboratories, let’s consider how they’re designed and what it takes to make a laboratory space thrive. To do this, we’ll look at why design choices are important, what safety factors are needed, and what equipment is crucial to make your lab a success.


Questions to Consider Before you Begin

From the very first stages of lab planning to its completion, ask yourself—what specific purpose does this lab serve? Every aspect of lab design should be driven by this question. Consider the daily tasks that will be performed and the research that will be carried out. An expertly designed laboratory will consider layout, equipment, and workspaces collectively, so that they work together to create an ideal environment for the tasks at hand. When done well, this integration increases productivity, minimizes errors, and benefits the researchers throughout their work.


The Inception of a Laboratory

So where do you start when designing a lab? This section will focus on the people and ideas you need to merge when embarking on this project. Let’s start with the people. When an idea for a new lab is born, it’s best to assemble all those involved and brainstorm the specific needs for the space. Include designers, lab researchers, scientists, faculty, owners and stakeholders in the process. Discuss the goal of the lab, what specific equipment is needed for that goal, lab flexibility, engineering requirements, and visions for future growth. This will bring clarity to the whole project and establish a firm foundation upon which to work.


Flexible Design in Modern Labs

Present-day lab design focuses heavily on flexibility. Flexible lab arrangements can accommodate the rapid changes and advancements of modern scientific research.

Important features to consider for lab flexibility include:


  • Customizable engineering systems that allow reconfigurations to adapt to a variety of projects
  • An integrative setup that promotes team-based research and collaboration
  • Clear circulation patterns for efficiency and smooth workflow
  • A “zone-based” layout where equipment stations can be moved and reconfigured

Ideally, you should plan about 25% of the space in a lab for equipment zones. These spaces should relatively mobile, allowing for the movement of equipment. This way, when a new project arises, the zones can be readily customized to suit each application.


The Environmental Impact of Labs

Another important question these days is, “how does this undertaking impact the environment?” The need for environmental safety has skyrocketed, causing lab designers to assess the “green” impact and energy consumption of the equipment being used.

Even simple steps toward these measures can make a significant difference. Maximize your space by purchasing stackable equipment or space-saving designs. Consider equipment that is Energy Star Certified or reduces the energy load. These small changes lead to monumental cost savings over time.

Speaking of cost, did you know that a typical laboratory uses 5x the amount of energy and water as an office building of the same size? Even more reason to look for energy-efficient equipment and sustainable resources.


Important Safety Measures

What safety measures should you take when building a lab? Because of the volatility of lab substances and equipment, safety is vital.

Start by implementing fire protection systems and adequate ventilation in all laboratory areas. Evaluate what materials in your lab will require flammable or hazardous storage equipment. Consider what refrigerators and freezers you will need. Laboratory grade cold storage is always preferred over household units for greater temperature accuracy and reliability when dealing with sensitive contents. Also consider the environmental impact of your lab’s potentially harmful substances, chemical experiments, and waste.


Examine the Practical Details

Once you get a good idea of the space you have, potential safety hazards, and a list of the equipment you’ll need, then focus on the details. Consider door widths and clearances, equipment pathways, and workflows. What spaces will receive the highest amount of traffic? Are entrances and exits clearly labeled and accessible? Will equipment be reachable, easily maintainable, and conducive to a balanced workflow?

Consider the height of countertops and the ergonomics of instruments. Prioritize creating clarity and functionality in all things so that researchers and scientists can do their job as safely and seamlessly as possible.



As always, rely on qualified professionals to guide you through the lab-building process—from inception to completion. It takes a team to create a modern lab. Engineers, designers, planners, and researchers must all work together to produce an ideal laboratory environment. If you follow this process, you’ll find yourself standing in a laboratory that is functional, streamlined, ergonomic, and safe.


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